The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (hereafter “the Church”) teaches that sexual relationships between those of the same gender are sinful, as are any sexual relationships between partners who aren’t legally and lawfully married. The concept that sexual relations between persons not married to each other is wrong is strongly rooted in biblical and Book of Mormon scripture, having been taught by Jesus himself, among several others, and is not illogical. Persons who are abandoned by someone with whom they’ve been emotionally and sexually intimate usually suffer hurt feelings and a corresponding lack of self-esteem, whether they admit it or not. And persons who use others sexually, without feeling any concomitant affection, attachment, devotion or loyalty to them, not only cause great harm, but become predators whose quest for self-gratification results in the objectification of their victims and their own loss of moral conscience. But in November of 2015, the LDS Church decreed new rules that went far beyond those precepts governing sexual morality which had existed since the church’s founding.
The new rules were discovered when someone leaked to the media that the Church had secretly added to its Handbook of Instructions new rules governing children being raised by homosexual parents in their primary residence. The identity of the leaker is known only to those in the media who first broke the story. The new rules would have otherwise have remained secret until some church members affected by said rules would have chosen to publicize the impact the rules had had on them.1 The new order was that the Church would not allow children raised by homosexuals living in same-sex relationships, whether legally married or not, to be blessed and named as babies, or baptized until they had reached the age of eighteen. Even then, they would be required to specifically disavow any personal acceptance of the practice of same-gender cohabitation and marriage, and receive approval from the First Presidency–the Church’s top three men in the worldwide hierarchy of authority. The new rules contrasted with the common practice in Mormonism, which instructs that children living with heterosexual parents are to be baptized at the age of eight. This is the age at which most Mormons are baptized, and it requires only that their parents desire it and that they’re first interviewed by their bishop.
Furthermore, the new rules also required that male children living with homosexual parents or guardians would not be allowed to receive the priesthood until the same steps set forth above had been followed. By contrast, male children living with heterosexual couples are given the “Aaronic Priesthood” at age 12 if they seek it and are found worthy.
The new rules (which church leaders seem to prefer euphemistically calling “policies” or “guidelines,” but which are by no means discretionary) spurred an avalanche of negative publicity for the LDS Church. Stories ran in all major media outlets, with the gist of each story being that children and youth, regardless of their personal behavior, were being discriminated against for being raised by gay parents. The Church, due to its own attempt at secrecy in instituting the new rules, was suddenly caught in a media storm it had not anticipated would arise so immediately. It reacted by having Apostle D. Todd Christofferson issue a statement in a videotaped interview. In that interview, he defended the rules as being designed to protect the involved children from having to reject their homosexual parents or guardians while being raised by them. The Church’s own coverage of his statement may be read here.
The new rules’ greatest impact was to cause large numbers of church members to decide they could no longer self-identify as Mormons, and to sever most or all of their ties to the Church. The evidence that this occurred is not just anecdotal; I have personally witnessed it occur with a relatively large number of individuals whom I either know personally, or whose personal stories I have read on various social media platforms. And since early November of 2015, no criticism of LDS practices has been more prominent or pervasive as the contention by growing numbers of LDS church critics that the new rules are simply un-Christian.
In this short essay I will argue that both the negative publicity from the new rules, and the disenchantment and/or exodus of members those rules caused, resulted from an easily identifiable mistake made by LDS leaders. This mistake would have been prevented had those leaders paid closer attention to, and followed, the teachings of the Book of Mormon, which scripture they purport to accept as the keystone of their religion. Furthermore, I will mention below other prominent mistakes leaders have made, and continue to make today, which could also be prevented in the same manner. This essay will also address peripherally, but not fully, Mormonism’s opposition to same-sex marriage and sexual relations between homosexuals, as those subjects are ancillary to the simpler points discussed here.
I will not argue that the new rules were in error, and not inspired by God, merely because they generated negative publicity, or caused members to disassociate themselves from the Church. Negative publicity can occur even when the Church takes positions which are correct and inspired. Rather, the rules were wrong for the simple reason that they were contrary to the crystal-clear, unambiguous teachings of God the Father, the Lord Jesus Christ and the prophet Mormon, as contained in the Bible and Book of Mormon.
The Book of Mormon Makes Clear that Little Children, Regardless of Parental Circumstances, Should Never be Baptized
The feature of the new instructions to bishoprics and stake presidencies which has received the most publicity and commentary is the practice of denying baptism to innocent children who have no say in determining the views or behavior of their parents. But elsewhere on this website, we have condemned the LDS practice of baptizing eight-year old children precisely because, in the eyes of God, they are innocent, and need no baptism for the remission of sins in the first place. See The Baptism of Eight-year-old Children Against God’s Will, wherein a full scriptural analysis of this practice was undertaken. Therein, it was argued that Mormon’s pointed condemnation of the practice of baptizing “little children” clearly contemplated children who are only eight years old to be included under the rubric of “little children,” just as we regard eight-year-olds to be today. The essay also recounted how church leaders in the time of Joseph Smith were made to choose between Mormon’s straightforward words and Smith’s claim that God had revealed to him that all parents who didn’t have their children baptized at the age of eight would be committing sin. In exalting Joseph’s credibility on this issue above that of the prophet Mormon and the Lord himself, whom Mormon quoted (see Moroni 8:7-9), Joseph Smith, and the church leaders who followed him, erred. Those leaders who continue to teach the baptism of young children today are perpetuating that error. By doing so, they’re needlessly creating fresh problems for themselves and the Church they represent. Those new problems are in addition to the problems caused by causing their children to commit to something, the gravity of which they’re too young and immature to appreciate.
Ironically, however, in explaining why the eight-year-old children of homosexual parents would not be allowed to be baptized, the Church’s account of D. Todd Christofferson’s interview, excerpted from the linked article above, included these rationales:
Speaking not only as an Apostle, but also as a husband, father, and grandfather, Elder Christofferson said the new policy originates out of compassion. “It originates from a desire to protect children in their innocence and in their minority years. … We don’t want the child to have to deal with issues that might arise where the parents feel one way and the expectations of the Church are very different.”
. . .
After the child reaches maturity, he or she can make an informed and conscious decision about their own Church membership, said Elder Christofferson. “Nothing is lost to them in the end if that’s the direction they want to go. In the meantime, they’re not placed in a position where there will be difficulties, challenges, conflicts that can injure their development in very tender years.”
The logical problems surrounding Christofferson’s explanation should be obvious. The reasons why children shouldn’t be forced to choose between the Church and their parents are the same reasons they shouldn’t be baptized to begin with, regardless of their parents’ sexual orientation or relationships: they’re too young and immature to make such a choice. Children don’t understand the life-altering implications of baptism or other major decisions when they are eight, ten, twelve, or even fourteen. We don’t consider children to have legally become adults until they are eighteen, but even then, their brains don’t fully mature until they are in their mid-twenties.2 Christofferson got that part right; children should be protected in their “minority years” until they reach “maturity,” when they “can make an informed and conscious decision about their own Church membership.” That’s exactly why the Lord, and the prophet Mormon, taught that parents should be baptized, not their little children. (See Moroni 8:10.) Jesus, himself a child prodigy at the age of twelve, wasn’t baptized until he was thirty or thirty-one.
Perhaps it’s appropriate at this point to question whether Christofferson’s rationale for denying baptisms to children of gay parents is the real reason behind the new rule. I have little doubt that it’s NOT the real reason for the policy. The real reason is that the Church doesn’t want children sympathetic to gay marriages growing up among their Mormon peers and influencing them to be receptive to gay marriage as well. Leaders don’t want such acceptance to gain traction. Other statements by Church leaders have made this clear, as will be discussed below.
If the LDS church leaders afforded more weight to the teachings of the Book of Mormon than the pronouncements of Joseph Smith in the Doctrine of Covenants, they would never have thought it right to baptize the innocent, immature young children of heterosexuals or homosexuals for the remission of sins those children don’t actually have. Instead, they would cease baptizing all young children.
Nor would Church leaders give 12-year-old boys (or 14- or 16-year-old boys, for that matter) the “Aaronic Priesthood.” They would know from the Bible and Book of Mormon that the priesthood possessed by Aaron and his descendants in antiquity didn’t exist in the church founded by Jesus in Palestine or the Americas in the first century A.D. The Aaronic Priesthood was a relic of the Law of Moses, and had no purpose or role outside of it. When the Law of Moses, and the ritual-heavy religion that was based on it, were repealed and replaced by Jesus with his own new doctrine and gospel (see 3 Nephi 15:2-9 in the Book of Mormon), the Aaronic Priesthood ceased to be part of Christianity. This subject is more fully covered in the essays The Righteous Offering of the Sons of Levi–2000 Years Ago, but not in the Future and The Restoration of the Priesthoods: True or Revisionist History? elsewhere on this website. If LDS leaders had thoughtfully studied these questions, and been willing to question whether Book of Mormon teachings should automatically be overridden by contrary teachings Joseph Smith claimed were revealed to him, they would not be ordaining any young men to the Aaronic Priesthood, regardless of the sexual orientation of their parents. Unfortunately, Church leaders have never addressed the many contradictions between the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith’s teachings. See The Most Consequential Reason behind Doctrinal Errors Gaining Acceptance in the LDS Church, elsewhere on this website, for more discussion on this phenomenon. Instead, LDS leaders have compounded the errors their predecessors made, and have created new ones.
Conclusions We Might Draw from the Absence of Jesus’ Teachings about Homosexuality
The Book of Mormon was brought forth in our time, after tremendous effort by scores of people, to be for us “the fulness of the gospel” in these last days. (See 1 Nephi 15:13-14; 3 Nephi 16:10-12.) And yet, it contains not one word about homosexuals, or the rightness or wrongness of homosexuals marrying each other. The evils about which the Book of Mormon concerns itself include murders, adultery, dishonesty, secret combinations, materialism, pride, the desire to subjugate others and deprive them of their freedom, and the unwillingness of many to believe in prophecies and warnings about future events. Similarly, though Jesus spent much time and effort during his sojourn in Palestine teaching the morality of his own new gospel, he is never once quoted speaking on the subject of homosexuals or their relationships with each other.3 Even the other two Mormon books of scripture, the Doctrine and Covenants and Pearl of Great Price, contain no reference to homosexuals. It is upon this scripturally soft foundation that LDS church leaders have unwaveringly decreed the mind of God on such matters. They’ve declared homosexual marriage relationships sinful, but haven’t been able to explain why God would expect homosexuals to go their whole lives abstaining from sexual relationships when no such expectation is made of heterosexuals. This is all the more puzzling since, in most cases, Mormonism’s rules at least enjoy some basis in the Doctrine and Covenants, even though they may contradict the Book of Mormon and Bible. But here, they have no scriptural basis anywhere for the idea that readiness for baptism or priesthood should be related to the sexual orientation of parents. Where one might think Jesus’ silence on the matter when teaching the Jews and Nephites might suggest the need for caution in speaking for the Lord on matters of homosexuality, as might also exhaustive years of research on the question of whether same-sex attraction is inherited, preventable or reversible, Mormonism’s leaders,who purport to reveal the Lord’s will, have demonstrated they’re untroubled by the lack of foundation underlying their own pronouncements. They haven’t cited to Paul, or to anyone else but themselves, in deciding the will of God on homosexual marriage relationships. They not only haven’t done their scriptural or scientific homework, they haven’t seen the need for such homework. I believe this, too, is error.
Other Avoidable Doctrinal Errors, and Mormonism’s Stance on Homosexual Relationships, Appear to Derive From the Church’s own 1995 “Proclamation on the Family”
In 1995, the First Presidency and Council of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints issued “The Family: A Proclamation to the World.” This document immediately became accepted as carrying the weight of canonized scripture, and is continually cited in Church general conferences to this day. The Proclamation does indeed contain much that is good in the way of guidelines for family living. But the proclamation contains many ideas which find no support in scripture, and are proclaimed without any explanation as to where the ideas came from. The second paragraph is a good example of this, and I have underlined those assertions therein which find no basis in any LDS scripture:
All human beings–male and female–are created in the image of God. Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents, and, as such each has a divine nature and destiny. Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose.
Although the notion that we are descended from heavenly parents, with “parents” being plural as opposed to one Heavenly Father, is popular and politically correct in Mormondom today, it has no basis in any of the faith’s four canonized books of scripture. Whether it is true or not, we do not know, because nothing has been taught about it by Jesus or anyone else. In the absence of such a scriptural foundation, the Church should avoid making pronouncements it can’t support. Instead, its desire to make bold proclamations has created unnecessary problems. Indeed, the heavenly mother announcement immediately raises all sorts of additional questions that Mormon doctrine can’t answer. The one the Church might regard as the most sensitive, at least from a public image standpoint, and the one leaders would most like to avoid, is: “Why aren’t Mormons taught to worship or pray to their heavenly mother, if she exists?”
But there are other nettlesome doctrinal questions which also naturally arise, which Church leaders have avoided discussing. Perhaps some of the most obvious are these: Who created our heavenly mother(s), since God the Father claims to be the creator of all things? Did he also create his own wife, and if so, didn’t he need another wife to do that? Is a mother in heaven a spirit, or does she have a physical body of flesh and bones as Mormons teach the Father has?4 If she has such a body, where did she get it, since according to Mormon doctrine, heavenly males and females with immortal bodies produce spirit children, not embodied ones?
The second error is the assertion that all humans have a divine destiny. Mormonism doesn’t teach that at all. Mormons teach that whether or not you have a divine destiny is determined by how righteously you live your life, and whether you obtain your exaltation through required rituals performed in the temples.
The third error is the assertion that gender characteristics were an essential part of our premortal lives. Nothing is said about that in any Mormon scripture. Indeed, the very idea that earthly humans lived in a premortal live is based solely on Mormondom’s canonized Book of Abraham. In The Book of Abraham: Fully Discredited by LDS Church History, the Bible and the Book of Mormon, an essay elsewhere on this website, we have shown that the Book of Abraham is not authentic as divinely revealed scripture, and that no doctrine rooted in it should be deemed reliable. But even if that book were authentic, there would still be no mention found therein about the choosing or assigning of genders in the pre-existence, much less that such choices or assignments were or are immutable. Undeterred by this absence, Church authorities strongly implied in 1995 that transgender operations are contrary to the eternal plan determined in our premortal life. Such a proclamation undoubtedly seemed safe in 1995. But now, over two decades later, Church leaders find themselves in a fight with offended and highly mobilized people, on whom these proclamations have a much more personal effect than that felt in 1995 by the proclaimers. The Church has doubled down on its claim that the Proclamation on the Family is God’s will; see this statement by Russell M. Nelson, then-President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, in 2016, and this pronouncement by Dallin H. Oaks, First Counselor in the First Presidency, in 2017. And in this fight over what God thinks about homosexuals marrying each other, or persons seeking a sex change, the only thing Mormons can say in defense of church teachings is, “though Jesus has remained silent, our leaders have spoken.”
Again, whether LDS teachings might be right or wrong is not is not the issue. The point is that if Jesus and his inspired teachers in the Book of Mormon saw no need to address these doctrinal issues, shouldn’t the Church which accepts the Book of Mormon as the “fulness of the gospel” exercise similar caution? If one’s assertions are scripturally baseless, shouldn’t that make one ask himself, “Am I sure I’m right? Have I thought this through well enough? Have I researched it thoroughly, including speaking with many homosexuals and at least one or two transsexuals? Or am I so sure that I’m right that I don’t have to do such homework?” If such steps were taken, it would avoid much controversy, and much unnecessary loss of membership.
1. Lay members of the Church not in leadership positions are not allowed to read or have access to the Handbook of Instructions, the rulebook for Church governance, and thus wouldn’t have known from their leaders the new rules had been instituted. The Church has never attempted to explain why its own rules and guidelines should be kept secret from the members who are governed by them, and whose tithing dollars pay for the printing of the handbook containing said rules. Nor has the Church ever attempted to explain why the insertion of the new rules into the Handbook was done secretly (though admittedly, the answer is obvious, since the Church goes to great lengths to avoid negative publicity whenever possible, and in this case, negative publicity was certainly foreseeable). Other new policies and rules are often announced to the world from the pulpit in the Church’s general conferences, or in letters to the members from the faith’s First Presidency, and said letters are read to all in attendance in local meetinghouses around the world.
2. For more on this topic, see “Understanding the Teen Brain,” online article by University of Rochester Medical Center, here.
3. I am aware that Paul in his letters does demonstrate antipathy toward homosexual relationships, but it’s significant that he doesn’t quote Jesus as his authority on that subject. He likely bases his opinions on the teaching against homosexual acts between males in the law of Moses found in Leviticus 20:13. In fact, Paul, a lifelong bachelor, was opinionated on many subjects that Jesus never thought important enough to address, such as proper hair lengths for men and women, the degree to which women ought to be allowed to participate in church meetings, and his preference that Christians not marry if they were not already married, so that they might more effectively dedicate themselves to preaching the gospel. In so doing, Paul admitted he felt he had permission to teach these things, but that his views were not commandments. See 1 Corinthians 7:6. It’s not at all clear that Paul even intended that the epistles in which such views were expressed should later become canonized Christian scripture. If so, he never said so. It’s helpful to remember that of all the early Christian teachers, Paul was the only one we know to have been a former Pharisee. Because of his background, he may have had views on the proper order of things which were left over from his training as a scholar of Judaism’s Old Testament strictures, but found no basis in Jesus’ teachings. My own view is that we should generally avoid assuming that things Jesus never mentioned were nevertheless hard and fast rules of Christianity. If homosexual marriage relationships are not mentioned in Jesus’ New Testament teachings or in his gospel to the Nephites, that fact should carry at least as much significance, in deciding how dogmatic to be in laying down rules, than Paul’s uncorroborated opinions on such matters.
4. The idea that God the Father has a physical body of flesh and bones is clearly refuted by the Book of Mormon and Bible. This is the subject of a separate essay on this website.